We’ve reached the final installment in our three part series looking at how advances in technology are impacting eye care. In the first installment we looked at how current technologies are improving the quality of life for those with low or impaired vision [Full Story]. In the second part, we looked at how some up and coming technologies that will greatly impact the lives of people dealing with impaired vision
In the third, and final, part of our series we will look at three cutting-edge technologies that could completely transform the lives of those with vision impairments.
Telescopic Eye Implant
The Telescopic Eye Implant is a relatively new technology, and only received approval by the FDA for use in patients ages 65 and older late in 2014. The telescopic eye implant is intended to restore normal vision for those suffering from age-related macular degeneration, otherwise known as AMD. AMD is an eye disease where the macula — the pigmented spot in the middle of the retina that is responsible for high acuity vision — breaks down, causing blindness in people as they age.
The breakdown of the macula in those with AMD, and the resulting loss of photoreceptors, creates a blind spot in the middle of their vision. It is the leading cause of blindness in people age 50 and older.
The implant was originally inspired by the Hubble space telescope, and the methods developed to correct a tiny manufacturing flaw that was causing the images it was capturing to be blurry. The implant uses two tiny lenses spaced 2 millimeters apart to both magnify images and redirect them to healthy parts of the macula. AMD. The implant is roughly the size of a pea and can reduce the size of the blind spot caused by the disease, and help patients see what they otherwise couldn’t.
The Bionic Eye
The so-called Bionic Eye can help those who have entirely lost their vision to AMD or an inherited condition called retinitis pigmentosa see again. Actually called the “Argus II”, rather than help the patient’s eye overcome lost photoreceptors by projecting the images the eye takes in on to healthy ones, the prosthesis uses a small digital camera set in a pair of glasses to see for them.
The digital camera captures images and transmits them to a processing unit packaged with the device’s power pack. That processing unit then sends the information to an electrode implanted in the eye. The electrode then creates a pattern of electric pulses. Because these eye diseases don’t impact the optic nerve, the pulses get transmitted to the brain, which perceives them as patterns of light and dark. Even though this isn’t true “sight”, the brain can be trained to interpret them as images.
These interpreted patterns of light and dark might not be as good as restored vision, it is good enough for them to see obstacles or contrast in people’s clothes. The Argus II system gives back some hope to those who have lost their sight, and points the way to more sophisticated technologies that could one day restore full sight. Nearly 10,000 people in the United States qualify for the surgery.
Bionic Contact Lens
In Part 2 of this series we looked at the Smart Contact Lens and the possibilities it presents. The “bionic contact lens” goes a step beyond the smart lens and into the realm of augmented reality. The current prototypes of the bionic lens are entirely manufactured using 3-D printing technology.
The LEDs are made by printing tiny crystals called “quantum dots” on the lens and the electronics are similarly printed on to the lens. Because the contact lens is naturally on the eye, special lenses called frensel lenses, smaller than the diameter of a human hair, are needed to bring the images from the LED’s into focus. The lenses use active electronics and tiny LED’s to create displays that are superimposed over what the eye would normally see. In order to generate power for the electronics, an antenna collects radio waves and an integrated circuit converts the radio waves into power and controls the active electronics.
The bionic lens currently has some significant technological hurdles to overcome. As of now, the prototypes are made out of hard plastic that isn’t practical, or safe, for wear. Also, current antenna technology severely limits how much power the lens can generate for itself. There is also the issue of creating biologically safe electronics that won’t harm their wearer.
However, if these challenges can be overcome, the potential of bionic lenses are tremendous. They could they offer all the benefits of the Smart Lens, and much more. Not only could they have the ability to monitor biomarkers of health concerns such as the blood sugar levels of diabetics, but they could display that information to the user or give them reminders about medication timing. They could also superimpose information such as heart rate during exercise, or even something as mundane as an appointment reminder, over your normal vision.
Advances in technology have had an enormous impact on every part of our lives. Just look at whatever you are reading this on: it has undergone an incredible transformation from a decade ago – if it existed at all, if you happen to be using a tablet or smart phone. And eye care technology is no different. Advances have been made that are already making tremendous differences in the lives of many. Technologies are emerging that will make even more of a difference in still more lives, and the promise of future advances is exciting to say the least.